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Expert calls for tailored treatments for patients lacking vital vitamin

Patients with vitamin B12 deficiency can remain symptom-free by following a tailored treatment plan, according to new guidelines published this week by the prestigious British Medical Journal.

Co-authored by Addenbrooke’s consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon Mr Julian Owen, the guidelines (opens in a new tab) discuss the symptoms and causes of vitamin B12 deficiency, as well as how best to treat it. Julian chairs ‘cluB-12’, an international group of experts that promotes awareness of this vital vitamin.

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient present in foods of animal origin, such as meat, eggs, and milk, or can be taken as a food supplement; it is not made by plants. Vital to several key functions in the body, a lack of vitamin B12 may affect the nervous system and result in mental health problems or lead to memory loss. Some 20% of those affected suffer from anaemia, a lack of healthy red blood cells.

In the UK, up to 6% of people under 60 years have low levels of vitamin B12; in the over-60s, this figure rises to 20%.

Dr Julian Owen head and shoulders
Mr Julian Owen, consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon

Prevention is better than cure. People who do not have enough vitamin B12 in their diets – such as vegetarians or vegans with plant-based diets – or those taking medications that interfere with B12 absorption, should consider taking a daily vitamin B12 tablet.

Julian Owen

There is no ideal time to test a person for vitamin B12 deficiency and therefore a patient’s clinical condition is key. Those affected may have symptoms ranging from mood swings and confusion to anaemia, weight loss and muscle weakness.

Many people may not even be aware that they are suffering from a vitamin B12 deficiency. Early diagnosis and personalised treatment are needed to resolve symptoms and prevent any long-term complications.

Julian Owen

Anyone with symptomatic vitamin B12 deficiency should discuss a treatment plan that is based on their individual needs with their doctors. The plan should include initial injections to ensure their body swiftly re-gains the vital nutrient.

‘Vitamin B12 injections can effectively restore normal metabolism, ease symptoms, and reverse the complications of deficiency, although some symptoms may take several months, or even years, to resolve completely,’ said Julian. Patients can be taught to inject themselves; the dose and frequency of injections may vary from twice weekly to once every two to three months.

Patients who self-inject vitamin B12 are happier with their treatment as well as being healthier and less likely to develop long term complications.

With professional support and treatment individuals with vitamin B12 deficiency can remain symptom-free.

Julian Owen